The experiences of our latest gathering – the visual art of the Virgin Mary, multiple interpretations of language and storytelling, embodied experience of creating and walking the labyrinth, and encountering the woods of St. Francis’ Hermitage – remind me the Renaissance served as a bridging period. One in which multiple realities could exist in a single image or experience and relationship with other was continually present.
During the In Claritas gathering, I found myself contemplating the archetypal feminine as a fundamental precursor to the Renaissance. In particular, the feminine’s capability in building relationship with other through holding dialogue, interacting with and knowing other; balancing the tension of paradox and ambiguity; reconciling and integrating contradictions; and pressing towards wholeness. During the high/late Middle Ages and the Renaissance notions of unity, particularly of human and divine, flower via the feminine. Through allegorical goddesses such as Lady Poverty, Dame Nature, and Lady Reason; and the Virgin Mary the feminine supports a participatory relationship the divine, mediates the relationship, and reconciles arising paradoxes in the relationship. The art, poetry, and liturgy of the period reinforce these themes time and time again.
As I postulate the role of the feminine (and manifestations thereof) in seeding the cultural rebirth of the Renaissance, I must in turn contemplate the necessity of a modern rebirth and the feminine’s role in building relationship with other. Managing competing orientations, complexity, and interdependencies that arise in building relationship with other are the domain of the feminine. The inclusive nature of the feminine challenges us to cross social-ecological and financial boundaries such as consumer consumption defined progress comparative to escalating material waste, corporate financial accountability in competition with socio-ecological responsibility, and pointedly complex system problems in relation to short-term insular fixes. Political, religious, even organisational boundaries proliferate the modern landscape.
Yet, the feminine requires us not only to mediate and cross boundaries in building relationship with other, but also asks – where does self end and other begin? This is question is relevant in terms of person to person, people and societies, societies and organizations, and oneself to the natural world. The question, I also find, is what links the rebirth of the Renaissance to today’s necessary revitalisation.
By Pam Fuhrman, photography Andrea van Schie.